As Chris Bryant, the Labour MP, reminded his Twitter followers during today’s PMQs:
Blair was right about Hague: good jokes, poor judgement. They are good jokes though.
And there were some excellent jokes from the foreign secretary, who was standing in for the prime minister and DPM today.
First he began by mocking Ed Balls, the man whose carping from the sidelines often winds up David Cameron into a red-faced fury. Hague said to Harriet Harman, who was leading the charge for Labour:
I congratulate her on not having the shadow chancellor sitting next to her, it makes her questions easier to hear. The chancellor is at the G20, I presume the shadow chancellor is off conducting another survey into what people think of him. We could have told him that for free – always better value under the Conservatives.
Is the government in danger of handing over its reputation for being pro-business to Labour?
William Hague’s message in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that businesses should “work harder” to promote growth was certainly bold.
At a time when the economy is stagnating and the government’s strategy is increasingly being questioned, turning round and blaming the sector of the economy you’re relying on to turn that round seems like a reckless strategy.
Before we get on to why it’s not a good idea to blame business for not supporting growth, let’s mention why Hague has a point:
- The govt is implementing the cuts programme many business groups have supported, and is sticking to it.
- Corporation tax is low and getting lower – on its way down to 20 per cent.
- Embassies around the world are pushing UK trade as their top priority, and the prime minister has taken huge business delegations on state visits with him on several occasions.
Last night’s comments from Leon Panatta, the US defence secretary, that the US was considering equipping Syrian rebels, triggered interest on this side of the Atlantic too.
Panetta insisted, as has the UK, that taking military action against Syria without agreement from the UN would be a “mistake”, but he acknowledged the Obama administration was considering providing communications equipment and other “non-lethal” support – something that has not previously been given.
So when William Hague was quizzed by the foreign affairs select committee this morning, it was the perfect chance for the MPs on that committee to ask if Britain would so the same. We have always ruled out arming the rebels – Philip Hammond repeated the view today that to do so would be illegal – but could we provide any “non-lethal” equipment?
Hague revealed that the UK is actually already doing so – to an extent:
Syrians protest in Hama
After the brutal crackdown by Bashar al-Assad’s troops on protesters in Syria over the weekend, William Hague was pleased to find the Russians scrapping their earlier reluctance to criticise the regime and join the growing global condemnation of Mr Assad.
His diplomats in New York will use the opportunity to try and push through once more a resolution that failed in June, condemning the violence. The resolution will be reworded to take into account this weekend’s events.
But given Russia’s complex political make-up, no one in the Foreign Office is taking anything for granted. One official warned: “It is not until we have sat in the meeting that we can get into how member states may be thinking.”
Last night the government lost a crucial amendment to their Europe bill in the Lords by a handful of votes.
Peers voted to introduce a “sunset clause” on the entire bill (actually, the entire bill apart from one technical point), which would limit it to only five years. Importantly, this means that the so-called “referendum lock” – whereby any transfer of sovereignty from London to Brussels could only be allowed after a Yes vote in a referendum – would have to be voted on again in five years’ time.
When the western coalition invaded Iraq the problem was not the initial military campaign; Saddam Hussein was toppled in just days. It was instead the lack of adequate planning for the post-invasion scenario, with insufficient thought given to how the country would be run after the invasion.
Most news channels are focusing this morning on William Hague’s comments (on the Andrew Marr Show) that Gaddafi’s time is running out. (Some defecting officers, never the most reliable of sources, also told a Sunday newspaper that the regime is crumbling).
The recent clash over AV has been portrayed as evidence of a rot at the heart of government between Lib Dems and Tories.
In fact, many of the rows within Whitehall since last May have not fallen into a predictable party pattern. If anything, ministers have tended to take a stance based on the department they occupy rather than their party’s pre-election manifesto. Immigration was one such issue, where certain Tories surprised their new comrades by being more liberal than the Liberals.
Take BIS, for example, where Lib Dems Vince Cable and Ed Davey are not exactly showing a herbivore sandal-wearing attitude. Last week, Davey and Francis Maude held private talks with Boris Johnson over ways to tackle the London strikes. It was Davey, I’m told, who showed a tougher outlook than Maude, wondering why Britain couldn’t – for instance – have the “minimum service agreements” (used in Spain) to stop public services being crippled by strikes.
David Willetts made a similar point this evening about the need for both coalition partners to share responsibility for all policy, good and bad.
The question of whether Gaddafi is a target for airstrikes has hung over the Libya campaign. The convoluted explanations from ministers can appear dry and legalistic. That’s because they are. But it is worth imagining the terrible indigestion this causes Foreign Office lawyers.
The problems started the moment General Sir David Richards said the Colonel was “absolutely not” a target under the UN resolution.
Since then, there have been strikes on command and control facilities in Tripoli. In public ministers have been opening up a bit, offering a slightly less legalistic response to questions. Take this quote from Liam Fox from an interview on the PBS NewsHour on Tuesday:
“If you look at it from Gadhafi’s point of view, [this] has been something happening at arm’s length, something happening in Misurata, something happening in Ajdabiya or out towards Benghazi.
What we’ve seen in recent days [is] attacks on Tripoli to increase the psychological pressure, apart from anything else, on Gadhafi, to make him realize that this is something that he is involved in.”
Sounds rather targeted to me.
Here is the story on ft.com about Hague denying allegations about his sexuality. Meanwhile this has just been put out by Press Association:
Here is the full personal statement issued on behalf of Foreign Secretary William Hague:
I feel it is necessary to issue this personal statement in response to press and internet speculation over the last ten days.
Earlier this year a Sunday newspaper began questioning whether my marriage to Ffion was in trouble, and last week another media outlet asked whether there was a statement about our supposed separation. This seemed to be linked to equally untrue speculation surrounding the appointment of Christopher Myers as a Special Adviser.
Christopher Myers has demonstrated commitment and political talent over the last eighteen months. He is easily qualified for the job he holds. Any suggestion that his appointment was due to an improper relationship between us is utterly false, as is any suggestion that I have ever been involved in a relationship with any man.
William Hague just colourfully summed up what sounds like a pretty poor Israeli effort to offer consular access to detained activists.
Because of the Israeli “lack of preparation” and confusion over the status of some detainees, Hague said British diplomats were being forced to “go to the prison, hammer on doors and ask people if they are British”.
It was William Hague who predicted in 1999 that the public response to Labour would go through four phases: His timing was amiss but the sentiment was correct. It’s a similar angle to the saying that all political careers end in failure.
For when I spoke to you in this hall two years ago I said that New Labour would bring first fascination, then admiration, then disillusionment and finally contempt. At that stage the admiration was running high; now the disillusionment is beginning; and mark my words, they are not so far away from contempt.”